Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital (Rivendell)

Sydney’s Second Best Kept Secret is a rare, unchanged example of a late 19th century major institutional complex, which was built in one major phase, and survives along the foreshores of Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River. The only other surviving example is Callan Park.

This building, designed by John Sulman, was commissioned following the death of Thomas Walker in 1886 and built with the £100,000 bequest from his estate for this purpose.   A further £50,000 was provided by his daughter Eadith,  sister Joanna and Eadith’s companion, Anne Sulman (nee Masefield).

It is a fine example of a private architect’s design in Australia and is considered to be John Sulman’s finest work in this country.

Along with the Carrington Centennial Hospital, the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital is the only other convalescent hospital to have survived from the 19th century.

It is important because it reflects Florence Nightingale’s influence on 19th century convalescent hospital design principles and their adoption into Australian Architecture.

The hospital is also important for its social links with women in allowing them to pursue career opportunities.

The symmetrical division originally organised the building into male and female halves, with communal functions such as the administrative wing, the concert hall and the kitchen sitting astride the main axis.

The principal block of buildings consisted of:

  • central administration block,
  • concert hall,
  • men’s pavilion (West) with ambulatory and court;
  • men’s dining room;
  • women’s pavilion (East) with ambulatory and court;
  • women’s dining room;
  • kitchen;
  • storerooms and
  • male servants’ quarters.

The administrative section consists of three levels and a basement.   The formal administration area was at ground level, nurses’ bedrooms on the first floor and servants’ quarters at the attic level.

A narrow staircase leads up from the second floor to the belltower with its magnificent views over the city.

The hospital was opened in 1893 and was used for convalescents until World War II.  The patients were not charged for their care;  Walker’s endowment providing for four week stays with a provision for further month if necessary.

The military took possession in 1943 and it became the 3rd Australian Women’s Hospital until 1946 when the Perpetual Trustees regained control and it continued as a convalescent hospital until 1976, when it was no longer a viable proposition.   Control was then given to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital who currently use it as Rivendell Adolescent Unit, a rehabilitation centre for emotionally disturbed adolescents.

Gate House
Gate House
Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Rivendell (aerial-view)
Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Rivendell (aerial-view)

Three other significant buildings on the estate are the Joanna Walker Memorial Children’s Hospital, opened in 1895, the Land Gate House and the Water Gate House, which is an extremely rare type in Australia.   To date no other examples have been found.

There were two modes of transport available to visitors to the hospital during the later part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, either by road or by river.   The latter was the preferred option, where patients were transported to the hospital by ferry.


If you would like to put your name down on a waiting list to be notified of the next tour of this magnificent estate complete the form below. We will contact you approximately two months prior to the date to give you details.

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  1. I missed out on the tour this year but would like to book 3 tickets for next year thanks.

    1. Hi Miriam,

      If you go to our web site you can register to be advised of when the next Open Day will be held. We will then send you an email as soon as bookings open, usual 2 months prior.



  2. Which part of walker house is for teenagers with depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies? I’m wondering because I’m fourteen and I’m meant be transferring there in a couple of weeks and I’m just curious

  3. My great grandfather convalesced there in 1902. Does your society hold or know of any patient records from that time?

    Carole Goodyer
    Botany Bay Family History Society

  4. Can I please be informed of the next tour of the Thomas Walker Estate. I have been past this Estate all my life and am very interested to find our more about this remarkable family

    1. There is a section on our web site where you can add your name to a list to be notified of future tours of Thomas Walker Hospital (Rivendell) and Yaralla (Dame Eadith Walker Hospital)

  5. I have admired these buildings for many years and always wondered about their origin and purpose. Would love a tour for 2-4

  6. I pass Rivendell regularly on the ferry and admire with interest the building and grounds.
    Would love a reminder and would like 3 maybe 4 tickets please.

    1. Visit our website and put your name on the waiting list to be advised of coming Open Days at both Rivendell and Yaralla.

  7. We (a family of 3) would love to go around the estate when it is next open.

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